Ovy Catto: The Forgotten Black Hero

March 17, 2008
By Cecilia Cicone, Newark, DE

Ovy Catto was an African American Civil Rights leader. People rarely get a chance to learn about this man that has done so much to make our country respect every citizen. Octavius Valentine "Ovy" Catto was born on February 22, 1839 in Charleston, NC. When Catto was five, his parents moved him to Philadelphia, the city where he would spend the rest of his life. Catto attended several prestigious schools for African Americans including The Academy in Allentown, NJ and The Institute for Colored Youth. Ovy Catto graduated and finished school in 1858 and he graduated as valedictorian. Catto was one of only a few African Americans of his time to receive a full education.

Catto eventually taught English, Math, and Classical Languages at The Institute for Colored Youth. Also, when Catto was an adult, he founded the Bannecker Literary Institute and the Equal Rights League. The Bannecker Literary Institute was named after Benjamin Bannecker, a free African American that fought for liberty during the American Revolution. He created these organizations so African American kids could learn, have fun, and hopefully have a better future. During the Civil War, Ovy Catto supported Lincoln and worked for the Republican party to get Equal Rights for African Americans. He tried to fight in the war for what he believed in, but he was rejected and told that "blacks were not authorized".

Catto's efforts paid off when the government agreed to ratify the fifteenth amendment, giving African American men the right to vote. United States Marshalls were present the first time African Americans were allowed to vote at the polls, but Catto was glad that his people got a chance to vote. Several crimes, however, were committed towards African Americans that tried to vote. Sadly, one of these crimes involved Octavius Valentine Catto as the victim. He was walking home from voting when he passed three white men. Frank Kelly, one of the three, shot Catto twice in the back. One of the bullets went straight through Catto's heart and killed him instantly. Catto was one of four African Americans that were killed the first time they could vote. Catto may be called "The Forgotten Black Hero", but what he did to change this country will never be forgotten, even if his name is.

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